Frederick H. Bealefeld III was sworn in as Baltimore's police commissioner yesterday amid continued reductions in homicides that could give the city its lowest total since the 1980s.
Due to a quirk in the city charter, Bealefeld's initial swearing-in last November was actually to fill out the six-year term of former Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, who was fired in 2004. Yesterday's ceremony officially marked the start of Bealefeld's own term, and he said he hoped to see it through.
"We've gone through a lot of tests," he said. "I think we can afford ourselves a degree of optimism. But we still have a long way to go."
Last month marked Bealefeld's first full year at the helm of the city Police Department - he was appointed in mid-July 2007 by Mayor Sheila Dixon and took over amid a wave of killings that had the city on pace to top 300 homicides for the first time since 1999. The pace abruptly tailed off after he took over.
The reduction in violence continued this year. Though the pace has picked up in recent weeks, the city is experiencing a 29 percent dip in homicides and a 16 percent drop in nonfatal shootings. The city is on pace for its lowest homicide total since 1985.
Bealefeld credited Dixon's public safety plan, which includes a focus on guns, community engagement and targeting of the city's most chronically violent offenders. Officers visit repeat criminals at their homes to remind them that they are being watched and to make sure they are complying with the terms of their parole and probation.
"We have photos, flat-screen TVs and all that stuff going in our [district stations] with pictures of bad guys, and if I can get them on the Goodyear blimp, I'll do that too," Bealefeld said in an interview.
Complaints against officers are down 15 percent this year, after a decrease of 30 percent last year. The department reduced overtime spending by $5 million, and the number of people arrested and released without charges has declined 10 percent.
But Bealefeld and Dixon reiterated that the city has much room for improvement.
Total violent crimes - including homicides, nonfatal shootings, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults - are flat compared with last year.
Both robberies and burglaries are up 3 percent, which Bealefeld attributes in part to residents feeling more comfortable reporting such crimes.
"Baltimore is at a point where we are really making progress," Dixon said. "But we still have a ways to go, and we recognize that."
Bealefeld is the third commissioner in recent years to be sworn in twice. Thomas C. Frazier was sworn in Feb 1994 and July 1996, stepping down three years later to take a job with the Justice Department. Edward T. Norris was sworn in in May 2000 and again in August 2002. He quit five months later to take the top job with the Maryland State Police.
As she handed Bealefeld a citation, Dixon told the commissioner: "We have a plan, and if we continue to work and stay focused, we can make Baltimore a city that has no homicides."